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Washington Post columnist demands CNN retract ‘corroboration’ claim about Steele dossier

A Washington Post columnist has sharply criticized CNN for failing to retract its claim that British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s dossier is ‘corroborated,’ following a federal indictment that raised serious questions about the document.

Media critic Erik Wemple issued the harsh rebuke in a column on Friday, calling on CNN to correct its longstanding claim that its reporting had verified substantial portions of the 2016 dossier alleging Donald Trump conspired with Russia.

Last week, a federal indictment alleged that Russian-born analyst Igor Danchenko, a key source for the Steele dossier, fabricated conversations with one source, and used a Democratic political operative as another.

Following the revelation, the Washington Post took the unusual step of substantially editing and publicly correcting several of its prior stories about the dossier — and Wemple believes CNN should take similar measures.

Washington Post columnist Erik Wemple has sharply criticized CNN for failing to retract its claim that British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s dossier is ‘corroborated’

CNN hosts including Don Lemon (left) and Wolf Blitzer (right) have repeatedly claimed on-air that the network had verified or corroborated substantial portions of the Steele dossier

CNN hosts including Don Lemon (left) and Wolf Blitzer (right) have repeatedly claimed on-air that the network had verified or corroborated substantial portions of the Steele dossier

Information in a new indictment has cast serious doubt on the veracity of British ex-spy Christopher Steele's 'dirty dossier,' much of which had already been debunked. Steele is pictured arriving for a London court appearance in July 2020

Information in a new indictment has cast serious doubt on the veracity of British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s ‘dirty dossier,’ much of which had already been debunked. Steele is pictured arriving for a London court appearance in July 2020 

As Wemple noted, CNN hosts including Don Lemon and Wolf Blitzer have repeatedly claimed on-air that the network had verified or corroborated substantial portions of the dossier.

Those remarks appear to refer to a 2017 CNN report that cited unnamed US investigators had ‘corroborated some of the communications’ in the dossier. 

That report stated that some conversations described in the dossier could be confirmed as taking place at the time and place described — but did not confirm the contents of the conversations. 

‘Narrow though the reporting was, it served as a springboard for broader expressions of confidence in Steele’s work,’ wrote Wemple. 

‘Whatever the distortions, “corroboration” is a poor word to associate with the dossier,’ he added.

Wemple argued that CNN had provided breathless, splashy coverage of its alleged corroboration of the dossier, but only muted and grudging air time for the Danchenko indictment that seriously undermined the dossier’s claims.

‘That brand of asymmetry helps explain why many people mistrust CNN,’ he wrote. 

An indictment charging Russian-born analyst Igor Y. Danchenko (above) has raised serious questions about the veracity of the Steele dossier, alleging that Danchenko fabricated one source, and used a Democratic operative as the source of at least one allegation in the dossier

An indictment charging Russian-born analyst Igor Y. Danchenko (above) has raised serious questions about the veracity of the Steele dossier, alleging that Danchenko fabricated one source, and used a Democratic operative as the source of at least one allegation in the dossier

A CNN spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an inquiry from DailyMail.com on Friday evening.

The network also did not respond to Wempel, leaving the columnist to cite a statement CNN provided last year.

‘CNN stands by our reporting. Our approach to the dossier has been consistent since day one,’ the 2020 statement said.

‘CNN only reported details when they were corroborated, part of a government filing, or publicly discussed by officials or those mentioned,’ the statement added.

In contrast, the Washington Post took strong and extraordinary steps to correct its prior original reporting on the Steele dossier this week.

Two online articles published by the newspaper in March 2017 and February 2019 were heavily edited, and an editor’s note was attached to them explaining that certain claims in the reports were  ‘contradicted by allegations in a federal indictment and undermined by further reporting.’

An editor's note appended to a 2017 Washington Post article explains that the newspaper now believes the report was based on faulty information

An editor’s note appended to a 2017 Washington Post article explains that the newspaper now believes the report was based on faulty information

Both articles had alleged that Belarusian American businessman Sergei Millian was a key source of the Steele dossier.

However, the new indictment alleged that Danchenko had lied when he claimed that he’d spoken to Millian when gathering information that was included in the dossier. 

‘As a result, portions of the story and an accompanying video have been removed and the headline has been changed,’ one of the Washington Post editor’s notes stated.

Though policies differ among different media outlets, it is unusual to substantially edit and republish an online article when new information comes to light.

Charles H. Dolan Jr, also known as Chuck, was revealed as a source for Danchenko

Charles H. Dolan Jr, also known as Chuck, was revealed as a source for Danchenko

Many outlets simply publish a new article containing the further information, possibly adding an editor’s note to the outdated article. 

The original Post articles had alleged that Millian was the dossier’s ‘Source D’, the source who claimed Russian intelligence had videos of Trump engaged in deviant behavior in a Moscow hotel room.

The new indictment strongly suggests, but does not directly allege, that the source for that salacious claim was actually an American public relations executive, whose identity has been confirmed by his attorney as Charles Dolan.

Dolan was a state chairman for both of Bill Clinton’s successful presidential campaigns in 1992 and 1996, and an advisor to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign. 

He also previously worked as executive director of the Democratic Governors’ Association, and actively campaigned for Hillary Clinton in 2016, according to the indictment. 

The Post substantially edited and corrected articles claiming that Belarusian American businessman Sergei Millian (left in 2014) was a key source of the Steele dossier

The Post substantially edited and corrected articles claiming that Belarusian American businessman Sergei Millian (left in 2014) was a key source of the Steele dossier 

The indictment was brought by Special Counsel John Durham, who is investigating the origins of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane probe into claims that Trump conspired with Russia during the 2016 election.

The Steele dossier, which remains largely unproven or debunked, was cited by the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller in warrant applications to spy on Trump campaign advisor Carter Page, who has never been charged with a crime.

Danchenko was charged with five counts of lying to the FBI about his contact with sources in compiling information that Steele included in the dossier.

He has pleaded not guilty and is currently free on an unsecured bond. 

In a statement to DailyMail.com, Danchenko’s attorney Mark E. Schamel said: ‘For the past five years, those with an agenda have sought to expose Mr. Danchenko’s identity and tarnish his reputation while undermining U.S. National Security.’ 

‘From the moment he was inappropriately revealed, he has been the focus of unrelenting politically motivated attacks,’ the attorney said.

‘This latest injustice will not stand. We will expose how Mr. Danchenko has been unfairly maligned by these false allegations,’ Schamel concluded. 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk